Why do we still think of social anxiety as a disorder?
Posted On September 18, 2021
Social anxiety disorder is an umbrella term for a group of symptoms that include a sense of a lack of control over one’s social environment.
For some, social anxiety is a psychological condition that causes problems with social interaction and relationships.
For others, it’s an actual, physical problem that often takes a mental toll on their life.
A new study published in the journal Psychological Science suggests that the symptoms of social phobia may be related to our biology.
Researchers from the University of Oxford and Imperial College London have conducted a study that looks at the biology of social fear and anxiety disorders.
The researchers found that social phobias and anxiety can be linked to the immune system.
They hypothesized that a similar biological mechanism may be at play in the brain.
The results are not only surprising, but also have implications for how we think about the causes of anxiety disorders, which are not well understood.
“The fact that there are two biological mechanisms in place that can cause anxiety disorders is significant because it suggests that social anxiety disorders are not caused by genetic or environmental factors,” said lead author Dr. Daniel G. Lebowitz, associate professor of neuroscience at Oxford.
“Rather, social phobic symptoms can be the result of something more fundamental in the nervous system.”
What is the evidence?
Lebowitz and his colleagues studied patients with social anxiety disorder, including those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), social phobe disorder (SPD), social anxiety spectrum disorder (ASD), and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
Their results suggest that social fear may have biological roots in the immune systems.
The team compared the immune responses of the participants with those of the control group who did not have social anxiety.
It found that people with social phorbophobia displayed a similar immune response to the control subjects.
However, the immune response in the patients with SPD was much lower.
What’s the implications for people with anxiety disorders?
Although the study does not provide evidence that social fears and anxiety are a disease, the findings do raise questions about the nature of anxiety.
The researchers hypothesize that social avoidance may help to explain the differences in the biological responses between the social phobos and the social anxiety sufferers.
This idea is consistent with a study by Dr. J. Michael Bailey, a professor of psychiatry at the University at Buffalo and an associate director of the University Center for Anxiety Disorders, who found that individuals with anxiety disorder who experience anxiety in a social setting, like a colleague, friend, or parent, may experience reduced anxiety in the presence of that person.
“It’s possible that social cues in the workplace, like physical contact or verbal greetings, are important for the development of social avoidance,” said Bailey.
“In contrast, people with SPD, ASD, and OCD are more likely to develop social anxiety because of the social environment in which they live.
So what do you do if you have anxiety?”
Dr. LeBowitz is now working on a clinical study to determine the biological differences between social phophobes and social phosophists. “
If there are symptoms that are not related to social phomorphy, it may be time to get help.”
Dr. LeBowitz is now working on a clinical study to determine the biological differences between social phophobes and social phosophists.
LeBowitz and the other researchers are planning to look into whether the immune differences in SPD and OCD patients may be an explanation for the different responses to social cues.